Women's Six Nations: What to look out for in the third round

It’s the penultimate weekend of the Women’s Six Nations and things are heating up ahead of the Super Saturday finals.

Last week we saw England enjoy a comfortable 67-3 away win to Italy, whilst Ireland shot out of the blocks in their first game, defeating Wales 45-0 and leaving them at the bottom of Pool B.

England have secured their place in the grand finale and, along with Wales, they will have a weekend’s rest. Scotland will host Italy at Scotstoun Stadium (5pm KO) to battle over second place in Pool A. But Ireland v France (2.15pm KO) will take centre stage for round three, where a win would mean a place in the final. We look at the talking points ahead of this weekend’s action:

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England vs who?

The main question on everyone’s lips is who will be facing England in the final. France are undoubtedly the favourites against Ireland this Saturday – their last meeting in March 2019 ended in a 47-17 victory for Les Bleus. Neither France nor Ireland have been tested in the tournament so far, both playing Wales with 53-0 and 45-0 wins respectively.

Ireland coach Adam Griggs is confident that the side that triumphed over Wales is the best fit to challenge France, making no changes to the starting XV. If that win is anything to go by, the future looks bright for Ireland, with younger players making good impressions. Winger Beibhinn Parsons, 19, was given player of the match after scoring two tries, while 20-year-old Dorothy Wall also scored.

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The French side will have fresh legs after a break last week. The squad will be reinforced by the return of some speedy sevens players who had been playing at the Dubai Rugby Sevens tournament. Caroline Drouin, Jade Ulutule, Carla Neisen and Romane Ménager join an already strong French team.

There were concerns over this fixture, as France was added to Ireland’s mandatory quarantine list on Thursday. The game won’t be impacted, however, as the Irish Government granted the French team entry as elite athletes.

Criticism of WRU

Wales coach Warren Abrahams promised a new-look attacking Welsh side for this year’s Championship, but following two heavy defeats to France and Ireland, that couldn’t seem further from the truth.

Fans and former Welsh players took to social media to criticise the Welsh Rugby Union’s lack of attention given to women’s rugby and the development pathway for young girls.

Former Wales international, Gemma Hallett, wrote on Twitter: “No u20s, No u18s, No development team, No performance pathway. But all heart! Their 1st taste of international experience comes from a handful of camps, then thrown into the toughest of championships. Blame the WRU, not the girls.”

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Amanda Bennett, another former Welsh player thought the same. She said: “I love watching the Welsh women play. I do but, these days it’s tinged with frustration. The players work tirelessly, battle hard & really do give their best. But it’s starting to feel like the @WelshRugbyUnion doesn’t believe in them. 22/23 players at English clubs?”

Of the 23 woman squad that faced Ireland last Saturday, 22 play their club rugby across the Welsh border in England. This highlights the discrepancies in women’s club rugby in Wales, particularly when compared to the other home nations, where the majority of players ply their trade on home turf.

Pool A wooden spoon

A win for Scotland on Saturday would ensure they finish ahead of Italy in the Six Nations for the first time since 2017.

Both sides lost considerably to England but the Scots seemed to deal better with the Red Roses’ pressure and were able to score a try, managing a 42 point deficit away from home. The Azzurri clocked up a negative points difference of 64 to England in Parma.

Scotland have the advantage of the home ground and have had an extra week to prepare and rest ahead of their meeting with the Italians. Scottish captain Rachel Malcolm is out with injury as Helen Nelson takes up the captaincy. They will also be without Hannah Smith, the sole Scottish try-scorer against England, as she is involved with the Team GB sevens setup.

Italy will want to capitalise on their first-half performance against England as they showed just how difficult it can be to break them down defensively. The Italian coach, Andrea Di Giandomenico, has kept his starting XV largely unchanged from last week, with Ostuni Minuzzi coming in at full-back as Manuela Furlan moves to the wing, replacing Aura Muzzo.

The losers of this match and, consequently, Pool A, will face Wales on the final matchday, where the real wooden spoon will be ‘awarded’.

Where to watch

For UK-based audiences, BBC iPlayer will show both of Saturday's games live, while RTÉ 2 will show Ireland v France. Eurosport Player is available in Italy.